2018 Overland Expo, Day 2
Here’s Day 2, and the last of the Expo’s 3 days that I’m covering.
The thinking behind Kimberley’s Eco Suite is in some distant parallel dimension, when compared to Gulf Stream and all the other American travel trailer brands that survived the recent depression, usually by hitting the skids and being purchased by a conglomerate. I picture the American RV brands as lions and hyenas competing for the same downed carcass, the typical RV buyer. Their attention is actually not on the carcass, but on each other, watching every move and being ready to duplicate whatever “upgrades” their competitors offer. Their emphasis is on “amenities”, which is the marketing word for the visual and tactile equivalent of comfort food to Boomers who want it all. The less discernible the difference between the RV and their home, the better. This is easy to market to, since the indulgent “get the luxury you deserve” line is as easy to sell as chocolate bars. The fact that a genuine granite countertop is housed within a stapled-together canopy of 1″x1″ sticks and luan sheets to keep the price competitive, well, that’s not a problem because everybody’s doing it, and it’s profitable. Kick in a porcelain toilet over the dump tank next time around, and no one will be able to say they haven’t improved their product.
Kimberley’s price for this tiny, robust rig is a staggering $90,000, which quickly evaporates any interest from us retired Boomers weaned on industrious personal effort and now switching over to self-indulgence as a reward. Yet, like the Black Series trailers in my previous post, “value” in the Australian mind is apparently based on different things. In place of granite countertops are features that aid function and longevity. Standard features include a hot-dipped galvanized steel frame of ample size, separate hot and cold stainless steel water tanks instead of plastic, high-clearance independent air-bag suspension with an adjustable compressor, hydraulic disk brakes with parking brake, a 550W rooftop solar system feeding a 200Ah lithium battery, induction cooktop, diesel-fed heating system, and a pump system that allows replenishing the water tanks with filtered water from streams or lakes. No doubt the induction cooktop runs off the 2,600-watt inverter. The structural materials consist of stainless steel, fiberglass, and to control weight and greatly increase panel stiffness, bonded aluminum honeycomb panels. I once saw early versions of the latter in the 1970s, and they were feathery in weight, yet allowed structural designs that simply could not be done by any other means and still function, which overruled their premium cost. Incredibly stiff.
Lithium batteries are a plus in this application because they require far less time to fully recharge than conventional batteries like mine. Charging voltages do not need to be held for hours to complete the charge, and a miserable charge on an overcast day can’t sulfate and cripple them. It doesn’t care whether it’s fully recharged or not, though I have to say that feeding a 200Ah pack with 550 watts-worth of panels will make partial recharges a rare thing. The excess panel power is then available for any daytime use. Like lead batteries, lithium batteries last much longer when they are lightly used each day, but their lifespan curves at set discharge rates are much longer than lead. Yes, you can discharge them to zero capacity, which makes a 200Ah lithium the equivalent of nearly 400Ah in lead, but for the sake of longevity and replacement cost, you really don’t want to make a habit of running them nearly flat. They currently cost 3-4 times what AGMs cost, and they can more than pay their way only if they are used lightly, and their charge controller is tailored solely to lithium. They do eventually wear out, but watch their two needs, and they may outlast you. Those on a budget may wish to wait a few more years before swapping over to lithium, to give the charging technology and usage knowledge the time to mature a little more, and hopefully lower the cost of entry.
The Eco Suite has its conventional luxuries too, in the form of an awning, microwave oven, coil spring mattress with underbed heating (which is much more efficient than having to run the furnace all night), inside shower, A/C, fridge/freezer, waterless toilet, aim-able 4G cellular antenna, a 12V “super-hot water dispenser”, and a “bluetooth soundbar”. Maybe there’s something else out there which can provide as much toughness and comfortable living space in such a small, trail-centric footprint, but it certainly isn’t available here. Yeah, I know, the cost is blinding, but when I compare the upfront cost to what typically goes on in our domestic RV world, the Kimberley starts to gain considerable ground. One can be happy in a little fiberglass Casita TT, but don’t weld a 360-degree hitch on it and figure you’re ready for bear.
Well that’s it! Hope you enjoyed it.